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How to spot the signs of stress and support employees

Tanya Woolf, Head of Psychological Services - Onebright

Work-related stress can occur in any job, level, and sector. While stress can be a good thing for productivity and creativity, there’s a fine line between a healthy amount of stress and a toxic amount that negatively affects one’s mental health.

If employees become too stressed, it takes a toll on the individual and the company’s overall culture. Spotting the signs early allows employers to have more control over the situation, to step in and find ways to manage or remove any unnecessary stressors in the workplace. Realistically, some stressors can’t be removed, so investing in stress management is a must to ensure a happy, healthy, and engaged workforce.

Signs of stress in the workplace

1. A change in behaviour
Changes in behaviour don’t automatically mean stress, but any changes need to be noted and addressed by leadership teams. Signs to look out for in an employee can be spotted by observing their actions, behaviour, and interaction with others.

Certain behaviours may be typical for one individual and may be a sign of stress for another. There is no one-size-fits-all list that can apply to every individual, but we can look at common symptoms and ask ourselves if we have spotted the following changes:

  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Sleeping too little or too much – this can lead to poor timekeeping
  • Procrastinating or avoiding responsibilities, missing deadlines
  • Poor decision making
  • Avoiding conversations with people/meetings
  • More use of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes
  • Nervous behaviours like nail-biting, fidgeting or pacing
  • Increase in short term sickness absence
  • Uncharacteristic defensiveness, cynicism and frustration
  • Conflict in relationships / aggressive behaviour

Because people handle stress very differently, symptoms of stress can vary, and symptoms can be vague or the same as those caused by medical conditions. Hence, employers who create an environment where employees feel safe and empowered to engage in honest communication will benefit from higher productivity.

2. Withdrawn and disengaged
Stress tends to cause people to isolate themselves. This reaction is often used to feel in control of the situation or to cope with a stressful social situation, such as reaching out to someone for mental health support.  Their confidence may have taken a hit as they realise that they are unable to manage their feelings on their own, and as a result, they avoid anything that might push or exacerbate these feelings. Employers and business leaders can co-create goals with employees that are meaningful and measurable and show that individual successes are connected to the business’s success.

3. Accidents or more frequent mistakes
Prolonged stress, or burnout, can manifest itself as inefficiency or a decline in work output. Employees who might have been highly engaged at one point but didn’t have the mental health training to preserve their well-being are more likely to produce work with mistakes or miss deadlines altogether.

Stress at work not only impacts employee health but also affects workplace safety. Often, stress results in accidents in the workplace because stress causes individuals to think about a problem rather than be attentive to their surroundings. How can employers put support in place for their workforce?

  • Understanding what leads to stress
  • Identifying signs and symptoms
  • Practical tips and exercises for managing stress
  • Peer support

4. High turnover in the workplace
Employees with workplace stress tend to be unhappy in their work situations. If they don’t have leaders with the training needed to point them towards mental health resources, they won’t feel supported by the company and will look elsewhere for work. Nowadays, several company-review websites, like GlassDoor or LinkedIn, give potential employees a glimpse into a company’s culture and how they support the mental health of their workforce.

When companies have employees who constantly come and go, this is a tell-tale sign that this is a stressed workforce who is not comfortable sharing their struggles with its leadership team.

Mental health training for Stress Management
Delivered by mental health clinicians, guides, support through robust mental health training, and clinically proven techniques can empower your workforce to develop life-enhancing strategies to cope with daily life pressures at work and home.

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